The trouble with planning out every aspect of life is that you simply can’t. You can’t account for unexpected drought or famine or war- and especially not for the will of the individuals. Stalin and the Bolsheviks discovered this the hard way, with the implementation, and subsequent failures of their “Five Year Plan.” One of the most notable examples, Magnitostroi, is presented by Stephen Kotkin in his article, “Peopling Magnitostroi.”
The poor, the illiterate, and the exiled were all shuffled off to a desolate city, Magnitostroi, to spend months at a time laboring away at products they would never be able to enjoy. Entirely dependent on the train, their only connection to the outside world, inhabitants were cut off from family and friends. The city grew from twenty-five people to 250,000 in the space of three years, but this was no indicator of its prosperity. Many of the workers were given advances to convince them to work in Manitostroi, but even those who received money often fled after short periods of time. The government was unable to account for the simple misery of the residents of the city. According Kotkin, “even for the standards of the day, living conditions on the site were harsh”1 No amount of money in the world (and certainly not the amount the workers were receiving) was enough to entreat most to stay.
So why did the government insist on building a city out of nothing, on shaping and sculpting a desolate patch of ground to its every whim? Was it in a show of power- to prove that nothing was stronger than the willpower of the people, forced by the hand of the government? Was populating Magnitostroi truly an achievement, as officials claimed, or was it a blatant imposition on free will?
- Kotkin, Stephen. “Peopling Magnitostroi: the Politics of Demography” in Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization. Berkley: University of California, 1993: 84. [↩]